It was the month that the signs for Annie went up at the Palace: “The sun’ll come up Oct. 3,” they insist. Shouldn’t management have consulted with Harold Camping before making that presumptive prediction?
It was the month that nine theater companies benefitted from the annual Tony Randall Grants: The Tectonic Theatre Project, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center Theater, Pregones Theater, Red Bull Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Elevator Repair Service, Rude Mechs and Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Next year, I’d like to see a theater company be rewarded for doing Oh Captain!
It was the month that Sister Act announced its closing – right around the time that I saw Jerry Zaks in the theater district proudly wearing his Sister Act jacket. “What can I tell you?” he said to me. “I just love this musical.” And I love when someone connected with a less-than-blockbuster stands by his work and doesn’t abandon it. I can literally think of dozens of creative people who’d quickly distanced themselves from the shows they’d steered because they hadn’t turned out to be hot tickets. You’re a good man, Jerry Zaks.
It was the month we got the good news that a musical version of the terrific film Bullets over Broadway will become a musical in 2013-2014. We got better news that Susan Stroman will be directing and choreographing. And then we got the bad news that old songs will be inserted -- or shoehorned or jackhammered – into the book.
Well, you say, Crazy for You did it and was one of the longest-running shows of the ‘90s. Yes, but at least the story seemed new. We all know (or should) the delightful Bullets over Broadway, in which a true artist dies for his art and a would-be artist compromises at every turn. So when we see the familiar story, we may well feel that the famous songs simply interrupt the flow. Don’t be surprised if you sit there thinking, “Just get on with the story, will you?”
Album of the month: Betty Buckley, Ah, Men! – specifically for Track Nine. “A Hymn to Her” has Buckley yearning to play the male leads in Man of La Mancha, Evita, Jekyll & Hyde, 1776, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, Pal Joey, Carousel, Guys & Dolls, The Producers, The Lion King, Li’l Abner, Camelot, Sweeney Todd, The Sound of Music, The King and I and Oliver! Most of the song is set to the famous “A Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady, with a few fanciful additions by Eric Stern. Too bad that lyricist Erin Kornfeld doesn’t always use a perfect rhyme (“Hamlet” and “gamut,” among others), which is really an essential component in comedy songs. And I wish that Kornfeld hadn’t mentioned “Momma Rose,” a name never once used in Gypsy. But despite these problems, the song is still a good deal of fun.
It was the month in which so many of you wrote me after I’d written about my 45 rpm recording of Lena Horne’s “Come On Strong” from the 1962 play: I loaned it to a theater company that never returned it. Several of you told similar tales of woe of “temporarily” giving out items, only to never see them again. We share the same pain.
Others informed me that the record was available for $9 on a certain website, while others pointed out a Horne album on which it appeared. I guess I should have mentioned that I bought the latter some time ago, and that I haven’t been “Come On Strong”-less for years.
But talk of this record brought back memories of my hearing the Horne recording in the 1962 play, and then going to my local record store to see if I could buy the single. Honestly, as I was walking in, the RCA Victor representative was telling the store’s owner of what he had coming up. “And then there’s Lena Horne doing this song from Oliver! – it’s a new Broadway show that’s supposed to be good – and on the other side is a song called ‘Come On Strong’ -- ”
“Come On Strong!” I exclaimed heartily! “That’s what I came in to buy!”
Well, both the salesman and the owner looked astonished – although I must say that when the owner turned to the salesman, he had a look that said, “I told you this record was going to be big.”
“May I have that one?” I screeched, and showed utmost disappointment when I was told, no, this was a sample that the salesman needed to take to other stores. I put in my order right away, and for the next five days visited the store every day after school. “Is ‘Come On Strong’ in yet?” I’d ask, sounding not Oliver asking for more. I’ve often wondered how many copies the store owner ordered of “Come On Strong,” assuming it was indeed going to be The Next Big Thing. He must have cursed me on the day that he had to return all those unsold copies.
Dropped by the newly refurbished Bucks County Playhouse to see A Grand Night for Singing, that revue of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. The theater was far more attractive and commodious from the last time I was there. “And now it’s air-conditioned!” crowed Jed Bernstein, the producing director.
The orchestrations were cool, too, thanks to Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick, who actually made some R&H songs sound sexy. Nice to hear “The Man I Used to Be” in ragtime. And when Kenita R. Miller sang “I Cain’t Say No” and got to the lyric, “I know I shouldn’t fall into the pit,” director Lonny Price had her indeed almost fall into where the orchestra was playing.
Courtney Balan, who must play the lead in The Bette Midler Story when Hollywood gets around to it, sang “A Hundred Million Miracles,” which is just about what it took to reopen this place that had been neglected by long-time owner Ralph Miller. He had also owned the Pocono Playhouse, which burned to the ground; the Falmouth Playhouse, which burned to the ground; and the Woodstock Playhouse, which (shall we say it in unison?) burned to the ground.
So Price started a scene as if two people were meeting in a singles bar. “You come to Bucks County often?” Greg Bosworth asked Erin Davie. She said she hadn’t been here in a while, offering the subtext that the reason was the playhouse had been closed for the previous 19 months. “I hear this place used to be on fire,” Bosworth said excitedly, using the idiom to mean “very popular” – to which Davie drily responded, “No, this place was okay.”
Last month’s brainteaser: A major league sports team – including BOTH the name of the city AND the cute little nickname -- can also be found on the window card and on the original cast album cover of a very famous musical. What is it?
The Buffalo Bills is the answer. It’s not only a National Football League franchise (and the only team that really plays in New York), but it’s also the name of the barbershop quartet that played those four quarrelsome guys in the original production of The Music Man. John Bacarella was the only one to get it, suggesting that we don’t have many sports fans out there.
All right, this month’s brainteaser is more for the musical theater crowd: These musicals are listed in this order for a certain reason. Can you infer why? Mame; 70, Girls, 70; Her First Roman; Man of La Mancha; Nine; I Do! I Do!; Oklahoma!; The Human Comedy; Ernest in Love; Jane Eyre; Half a Sixpence; Carousel; Hello, Dolly!; Hazel Flagg; Cats; My Fair Lady; Ballroom; All in Love; Whoop-up; Seesaw; Honk!; Foxy; Henry, Sweet Henry; Xanadu; Damn Yankees and Zorba.
Finally, it was the month that I went for my annual check-up and physical. Friends and some relatives will be happy to hear that I passed, while those I’ve panned will be less pleased. Anyway, the doctor asked me what I did for a living, and when I answered “Theater critic,” I followed it with a question: “Do you ever go to the theater?”
He shook his head slowly and sadly from side to side. “Rarely,” he said. “It’s too expensive.” Now if a doctor thinks tickets cost too much ...
— Peter Filichia